Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Spanish GP – An outside bet in Barcelona
Montmelo, 12 May – If you had correctly predicted the top three order in today’s qualifying session for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, apparently you could have won about 5500 Euro for each Euro bet! And part of that would have been courtesy of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who secured his and the team’s best result so far this season, setting the third fastest time in Q3. Within the Prancing Horse camp, everyone had expected that the much talked about aero updates introduced here in Barcelona would see the F2012 move more smoothly than usual into Q3, but the second row of the grid was beyond expectations. Lewis Hamilton took his third pole of the season, so no big surprise there, as he thus provided McLaren with its 150th pole in Formula 1. However, the paddock pundits were left awestruck when the name Pastor Maldonaldo finally emerged next to “P2” on the final qualifying time sheet. For the Williams driver it was his best ever performance in Formula 1 and must have been a heart-warming sight for Sir Frank Williams who is having an informal reception in the paddock tonight, to celebrate his recent seventieth birthday.

Already on Friday and again today, the fans have been out in force and although there is one other Spaniard, Pedro de la Rosa and a Spanish team, Hispania, on the grid, it’s fair to say that most of the crowd only have eyes for Fernando. And this third place is a great opportunity for the Ferrari man to give them plenty to cheer about tomorrow. In the Drivers’ classification, the man from Oviedo is only 10 points behind the leader Sebastian Vettel and the German could do no better than eighth today in his Red Bull, while Jenson Button and Mark Webber, who are ahead of the Spaniard in the championship are only eleventh and twelfth respectively on the grid at the Catalunya track. Alongside the F2012 on the second row is the Lotus of Romain Grosjean who just out-qualified his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn thus sharing the third row with Sergio Perez in the Sauber.

In the other F2012, Felipe Massa had an unlucky afternoon, blighted mainly by traffic, as he got stuck far too often behind other drivers warming their tyres in preparation for a timed lap, while he was on his on new Soft rubber in Q2 going for a time. In such a tight field, with very small gaps between the cars, he finished around half a second off the tenth placed man and that insignificant gap was enough to put him back in seventeenth spot. 66 laps of this demanding circuit are going to present a tough challenge for the Brazilian tomorrow afternoon.

Spanish GP – Two sides to qualifying in Montmelo. Alonso shines in front of home crowd
There were two sides to qualifying for Scuderia Ferrari, as Fernando Alonso was third fastest, while Felipe Massa ended Q2 only in seventeenth place. The Spanish driver’s position is the best result since Saturday at Silverstone in 2011. Both drivers were on identical tyre useage programmes during the first two parts of the session: one set of Hard and then one of Soft in Q1, then one used and one new set of Soft in Q2. This meant for the first time this year, Fernando was finally able to tackle Q3 on a level footing with the others.

Stefano Domenicali: “The session was very closely contested and packed with surprises. Finally this year, we managed to get to Q3 in a condition that meant we could show our worth, at least with one of the drivers. Fernando did a fantastic job from the first to the final lap of the session, constantly improving and, once again, getting all the potential out of the car. Felipe fought hard, but on his lap with new Soft tyres in Q2, he had a lot of traffic and lost a few tenths that would have brought him close to tenth place. We had a lot of new parts on the F2012 and the aim was to make up at least part of the gap to the best in terms of pure performance. We have made a step forward, this is a fact. Tomorrow’s race seems very hard to predict and tyre performance will make the difference. The weather could also play an important role, given we have already seen that a few degrees more or less can change the cards on the table.”

Fernando Alonso: “This third place is not what we had expected. We were counting on making a step forward that would allow us to get into Q3 with less difficulty than in the first races of the season and we managed it. But we certainly did not think we could be so high up the grid. I don’t know if this position is a true reflection of our car’s performance – it’s definitely not normal for a Red Bull and a McLaren to be eliminated in Q2 and that the other Red Bull gets into Q3 with no sets of new Soft tyre available – but what is certain is that the new parts we have brought here have resulted in us taking a step in the right direction: sure, it’s not yet enough to fight for the very top places. It’s a good basis to start from for this weekend, but the points come tomorrow. We will try and get a good start, especially as some of my main opponents in the title fight start behind us and we must try and make the most of that. Tyre performance will be a critical factor: we will have to be careful, because the forecast is for different temperatures to today and that could throw up some surprises. Racing in front of this amazing crowd always gives me some extra motivation!”

Felipe Massa: “When qualifying is as close as this, it is vital to manage to have everything fall into place on a clean lap and I never got that chance. On my second run in Q2, I came across at least seven or eight cars that were preparing their tyres for their timed lap and the time I lost definitely cost me dear. It’s a real shame to start seventeenth in a race in which our car has shown it has made a step forward in terms of performance, as could be seen from Fernando’s result. The new aerodynamic parts which we introduced on the F2012 seem to have worked well – we have a bit more aerodynamic downforce and a bit less drag – but we are well aware that there is still a lot to do. Tomorrow, on a track as hard as this one on the tyres, strategy will be crucial: let’s hope I can make it into the points.”

Pat Fry: “A good result with Fernando, who managed to qualify third, the best performance of the season. A shame for Felipe, who suffered because of traffic on his quick lap in Q2: right now, I cannot say if he would have made the cut out of Q2, but it definitely cost him some places. We brought various updates here, especially aerodynamic ones: some worked well, meeting our expectations, others less so: looking at this afternoon’s result we can say we have made a step forward, but it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do to always be at the same level as the best. However, third place is a confidence boost and it is down to everyone who, these past weeks, back home and at the track, has worked hard to reach this objective. Now we must confirm this progress in the race as well. The forecast is for slightly lower temperatures tomorrow and that could have an effect on tyre behaviour. We have seen various choices in terms of tyre management: now we will see who made the right choice.”

Qualifying session

Q1 ALO 3rd 1.23.276 6 MAS 14th 1.23.886 6
Q2 ALO 6th 1.22.862 6 MAS 17th 1.23.444 6
Q3 ALO 3rd 1.22.302 2

Weather: air 30/28 °C, track 40 °C; clear skies. Chassis: Alonso 295, Massa 294

Spanish GP – Alonso third in qualifying
Montmelo, 12 May – Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari on the second row of the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix, setting the third fastest time in qualifying in 1.22.302. Lewis Hamilton took his McLaren to pole with a 1.21.707. This was an encouraging performance from Scuderia Ferrari’s Spanish driver, going into his home race, while it looks like team-mate Felipe Massa will have a tougher time, as he went out at the end of Q2 because of problems with traffic. He was seventeenth fastest in 1.23.444.